Mark Foster Gage | A Traditional Reflection On The Architecture Of The Future
Mark Foster Gage is an architect practicing his profession from his architectural studio in New York City, combining it with being an Assistant Dean of the School of Architecture at Yale University and constantly traveling to give lectures around the world. For his projects, he works with what he likes to call enlightened clients – people interested in going beyond the status quo. Mark Foster Gage Architects definitely pushes boundaries (and perhaps people’s buttons).
Considering himself a nomad, he is always thriving on the unfamiliar. Ironically, Mark went to the University of Notre Dame where he studied classical architecture the most stable, conservative, and regimented form of architectural education available today with a very Beaux Arts curriculum. Perhaps it was thanks to his past background that this work is now about looking more deeply into the unfamiliar and the estranged, not only architecturally but philosophically and how architecture can produce a deeper reconsideration of what we understand as ‘normal.’
Mark considers architecture as challenging what we take for granted in life, and sometimes dreaming up entirely new ways to exist as an individual and as a community at the urban scale. “The very best architecture does this but it’s also rare,“ he says.
With a very clear vision of the future of architecture and a very innovative design approach, Mark’s style is undefined but certainly very unique. Mark’s proposal and inspiration to envision West 57th Street Tower in New York City is a classic example of that. He was struck by the sheer number of skyscrapers being built in Manhattan and how unremarkable they all were. To him, it was absurd that people would invest so much in a building when it is about as architecturally interesting as a shipping container boring boxes with stock curtain wall products.
“Architects in the history of New York have done much better they gave us the Chrysler building, the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center and a host of other incredible projects. Our generation should be able to produce buildings at this level. Our West 57th Street Tower design pushes this over the edge of what is deemed conventional. It was intended to be a wake-up call to show what is possible for us to do, and, by comparison, show just how mundane the status-quo is,“ says the architect.
As a design process for this project, he and his team developed a technique of “Kitbashing,” a digital version of a technique used in Science Fiction movies from the 1950s to the1980s. In Kitbashing, special effects artists would take different plastic model kits of WWII airplanes, Viking boats, trains, and swap pieces, thus bashing together, to produce models of new spaceships and airplanes that don’t exist yet. It was a way of using forms from the past to produce an unfamiliar present or future. Kitbashing gave them access to high degrees of formal variety and resolution without the baggage of symbolism or rule sets as you’d find in classicism. This happened about the same time while Mark was reading the philosopher Graham Harman’s earlier work on Object-Oriented Ontology which essentially emphasizes the value of entities themselves as opposed to emphasizing their interconnectivity. This is all related to symbolism in architecture.
Mark Foster Gage Architects aims to do something which is impossible to read symbolically. For them, there cannot be just one meaning, but there are millions of meanings because the world deserves this much complexity. People can look at the project differently and create their own meanings because it has so many symbols that it became impossible to be symbolic. It’s overloaded with potential symbolism. Therefore meaning can’t be extracted from it. This is a very new idea for architecture where definitions are so complex that singular meanings are no longer possible.
Another innovative process is applied between materials and technology. The West 57th Street project proposed to use a very new type of sustainable limestone that comes from a site adjacent to a power plant in Iceland. That plant takes in CO2 from their industrial processes and injects it into a basalt substrate. While in the basalt the gas mixes with water and foams up to become a type of limestone in about two years. Mark also combines the latest technology with more traditional methods. He has a very interesting affiliation with an organization in Italy just outside of Carrera. Michelangelo got all of his marble from that area, so it has a very long tradition of stone and stonework. The organization is researching how to carve this exact same stone, but with robots, this is where one of the world’s oldest technologies gets paired with some of its newest. A great thing about robotics that is giving access to carving and detail that wasn’t possible to do by hand anymore as it was too expensive. Technology is ironically giving the ability to do in architecture what we did 2000 years ago. The West 57th Street project capitalized on this type of robotic carving technology.
Also, in this project the connection between the interior and exterior, and overall tower within its context is separate. For Mark, it’s much more interesting to not think of architecture as transparent and understandable in a glance, but a bit more mysterious. As a result, the exterior does one thing, and the interior does not – they are separate in order to offer surprises.
Mark believes our world is defined by things bleeding into one another. The historic categories of architecture being an artistic discipline or science aren’t robust enough to capture the complexity of what’s going on. His work is extremely interdisciplinary, he collaborates with everyone from car and fashion designers to software engineers and social media influencers.
He particularly loves working with the fashion industry as they really value design and they’re incredibly fast and fun. It’s an interesting combination as the fashion industry probably is the fastest creative discipline as things come in and out of style in months and architecture might be the slowest, as things come in and out of style in decades.
As the long arc of history progresses forward, it is becoming increasingly accurate the unlimited possibilities and conscious expansion. The opportunities that we have today, our predecessors could not have imagined.
“This goes for architecture as well, which is why our projects push boundaries so far. I want certain things for architecture and our clients want certain things for their own reasons, and we work together to find solutions the world hasn’t seen before. It’s going to be an incredible next few decades in architecture, and we look forward to being a part of it and meeting clients who we can collaborate.” – Mark Foster Gage